Saturday, April 30, 2016

2016 National Bestseller Award Short List & The Penguin Book of Russian Poetry

The National Bestseller Award announced its short list this week. Here’s the list of five finalists—one short of the usual six—with the number of points each was awarded in the first round of voting. Comments on the finalists and the process, written by Vadim Levental, the NatsBest secretary, are online, as are jury members’ reviews and votes.

  • Leonid Yuzefovich’s Зимняя дорога (excerpt 1) (2) (3) (Winter Road) (12 points). I’ve been looking forward to Winter Road—which describes itself as a documentary novel—ever since it arrived at my house a month or so ago: I feel like I can’t go wrong with the combination of “documentary” and “novel” as well as, of course, Yuzefovich, Civil War figures, and Yakutia, a place I once spent several very wintery days.
  • El’dar Sattarov’s Транзит Сайгон-Алматы (literally Transit Saigon-Almaty) (9 points). Sattarov’s apparently a fairly unknown writer from Kazakhstan: the book looks at the history of Vietnam during 1930 through the 1990s, apparently through the story of a partisan.
  • Aglaya Toporova’s Украина трех революций (excerpt 1) (2) (3) (very literally Ukraine of Three Revolutions) (8 points). Levental notes Toporova’s “centrist position” and “calm ironic intonation” in describing events in Ukraine in recent years.
  • Maria Galina’s Автохтоны (part 1) (part 2) (Autochthons, I guess) (7 points). Autochthons sounds like a Galina-esque combination of phantasmagoria, magical realism, history, and a regular-guy hero. I’ll be starting on this one soon, too.
  • Mikhail Odnobibl’s Очередь ([The?] Line) (5 points). Even Levental calls this one mysterious; he also describes the book as “Kafkaesque fantasy.” Beyond that, it’s unclear who Odnobibl really is. (An all-too-quick-because-it’s-a-sunny-day search for descriptions popped this piece, which I may take a better look at when the sky’s cloudier.)

Levental also mentions notable authors who missed the short list… picking up many of the same names I did: he praises Alexander Snegirev’s collection of short stories (which Snegirev sent to me and which looks very good), and Anna Matveeva’s novel but said he breathed a sigh of relief that Petr Aleshkovsky and Anatoly Kim missed out. I, too, was surprised that Andrei Astvatsaturov and Dmitrii Danilov received only one point each.

The NatsBest winner will be announced on June 5.

Bonus: A Rambling, Non-Scholarly, and Occasionally Gushy Translated Book Note. I finally (finally!) ordered up a copy of The Penguin Book of Russian Poetry, edited by Robert Chandler, Boris Dralyuk, and Irina Mashinki, and containing translations by the editors plus a stellar list of several dozen additional translators, beginning, alphabetically, with Alexandra Berlina and ending with Katherine Young. I bought the anthology for what might be called “business with pleasure” reasons: for one thing, Russian novels often contain lines from well-known Russian poetry, transforming anthologies into reference books for me. For another, I like anthologies with introductory notes about authors and this book’s notes, written by Chandler and Dralyuk, are lively and informative. I also feel a special connection to the book after hearing related translator readings and conference presentations in June 2013 (previous posts).

Though I’ve only puttered with the book a little since I bought it on Tuesday—flipping to random pages and poets as I’m wont to do with collections like this and floating off on happy little tangents—I did take a closer look at one poem, Velimir Khlebnikov’s “Заклятие смехом,” which Christopher Reid’s “after Khlebnikov” interpretation renders as “Laugh Chant.” And which I liked very much because it tied my tongue and made me laugh, just like the original does when I read it aloud. I zaumed in on “Laugh Chant” thanks to Amateur Reader (Tom), who blogs at Wuthering Expectations, and who happens to be on a Russian poetry tear that’s included a recent post about The King of Time: Selected Writingsof the Russian Futurian, a 1985 volume with poems translated by Paul Schmidt. Although the beginning of Schmidt’s version of Khlebnikov’s laughter poem didn’t catch my feel for the poem like Reid’s does, the beautiful incantatory effect of Schmidt’s neologisms, rhyme, and even shifted hyphens (!) in a chunk of Khlebnikov’s play-that's-more-than-a-play, Zangezi, that appears in the Penguin collection bewitched me completely. Zangezi, by the way, was performed in the late 1980s; read about it in The New York Times, here. For a comparison of these same two versions of the laughter poem (as well as mentions of other humorous poems) see Alice E.M. Underwood’s Russian Life article, here.

Disclaimers: The usual as well as warm collegial/professional/personal relations with the editors of the Penguin book and many of the translators therein. I’ve translated excerpts of books by Galina as well as Vadim Levental’s entire novel Masha Regina, which is just out from Oneworld Publications and has even been spotted in the wild at McNally Jackson Books in New York City!

Up Next: Eugene Vodolazkin’s The Aviator, which I just plain loved. Alexander Snegirev’s Vera, which I may yet call Faith. Translations due out in 2016—send in those entries!


  1. I've got to get that Penguin anthology. The introductions to each poet are reason enough.

    1. I know! I love introductions like these. Plus the book's just so much fun to flip through...

  2. Dear Lisa, thank you for the kind words and I do hope to see you in London in June for I have for you a poem book of mine published by Vremya and named "all about Lisa" :)
    (Maria Galina)

    1. Maria, thank you for your comment! I wish I were coming to London (I live in New England, way too far from wonderful Old England with London) in June so I could see you! (What is the event?)

      For now, though, I am enjoying your book, especially (of course!) the ресторации)) Поздравляю с коротким списком!

    2. Here will be Valentina Poluhina 80-th celebration, we are going to be guests. Заодно почитаем немножко стихов и переводов. Спасибо за добрые слова про Автохтонов, очень-очень все-таки надеюсь увидеться, может, на финале БК?